January 1st is known as Sylvester here in Israel. It always strikes me as funny, since it’s named after St. Sylvester, a pope who notoriously hated the Jews. This year, it also happened to be the six- month anniversary of the day I moved to Israel! That’s why I love the fact that I moved here on the first of the month- so easy to track how long I’ve been here! Since last I posted, I have moved into my apartment, celebrated Hanukkah, began looking for a job in earnest, hosted my family visiting from New York, and weathered my first “snowstorm” of the year. It’s been hectic, but super exciting! The day after I moved out of ulpan, Hanukkah began! I know this is controversial, but I really don’t like “the holiday season” as they call it back in NYC. While many Jews I know live for the songs, and the tinsel, the trees and the Santas, I personally don’t. I understand the appeal, the glitz and glamour, and the fact that it is in your face 24/7 from October through January, but I never shook the feeling that none of it was for me, and that it really distracted from my own joy when it came to Hanukkah. I don’t want to have to compete for “holiday supremacy”, and it would be silly to try! That’s why I love living in a country where there is only Hanukkah! Sure, you see a random Xmas tree walking past a bar or in the Old City Christian Quarter, but for the most part, it’s menorahs and dreidels, as far as the eye can see! I can not explain to you the feeling of seeing streetlamps festooned with menorahs, buses wishing us a “Hanukkah Sameach”, signs exclaiming “We have the best doughnuts in town!” and nary a jingle bell anywhere! It warmed my heart for 8 straight days and nights! Not to mention the family and friend Hanukkah parties, intense games of dreidel, and general revelry around every corner. One night, I was invited as a “special oleh” to light candles with the mayor of Jerusalem, whom I adore. That was kind of a letdown, as it was packed with a million other “special olim” and I didn’t get my selfie with the mayor, but it was okay! The next day, I was again invited as a “special recent graduate of ulpan” to a candle lighting ceremony with Bibi Netanyahu himself! I was super- excited, to say the least. I think you might guess where I’m going with this. Turns out, I was one of very many “special recent graduates of ulpan” along with 300 or so other recent olim, all assuming we were going to get some face-time with the Prime Minister.
We had to wait two hours until he arrived, the room full to overflowing (and by that I mean only overflowing), while he lit candles and we heard from 2 recent olim. Again, this may be controversial, but I have to say it. Both olim gave moving stories about how they left situations (in France and Peru) where being Jewish was difficult and came here to live as free Jews. I understand how this is an important narrative, but just once, I want to hear this story on a podium: “I left all my family and friends, a great job, a new car and a big house to move to Israel. I lived in a huge Jewish community with 3 kosher pizza shops and 5 Orthodox synagogues in my area. I never experienced a smidgen of anti-Semitism, I never had to work on a Jewish holiday and life couldn’t have been easier. And yet here I am, fulfilling my dream of helping to build the Jewish state.” This is the narrative of myself and so many of my friends and family, and I think it’s just taken for granted sometimes. Okay, back to the event. Bibi gave an awesome speech about how moving to the country is making a huge contribution and I was pretty inspired by the end of the night. Definitely a great way to wrap up the first half of your first year here! After Hanukkah, when the rest of the world was celebrating Xmas, I was making a welcome sign for 3 of my favorite people in the world- my parents and sister! They decided to visit me during their work breaks, and were coming for ten whole days! I decided to surprise them in the airport, which felt like a great idea until they were the last people from their flight to emerge at arrivals. One look at the their excited-to-see-me but anxious faces, and I could tell something was amiss. Turns out, they got all their bags except one- mine. The bag they packed with all my winter stuff and all the things I bought Cyber Monday (so sue me, not 100% Israeli yet) was gone! They put a claim in and we hoped for the best, hopping a cab back to our rented apartment in Nachlaot.